I recently had the oppor­tu­nity to catch with Tony Brad­shaw, VP of Inter­net Busi­ness and Tech­nol­ogy at The Lampo Group, Inc. a Dave Ram­sey Com­pany. Tony has built an ana­lyt­ics & opti­miza­tion pro­gram at Dav​eR​am​sey​.com, which includes Site­Cat­a­lyst, Dis­cover and Test & Tar­get. I wanted to find out the lessons Tony had learned in mak­ing his pro­gram a suc­cess. Since many busi­nesses face sim­i­lar chal­lenges, I felt his per­spec­tive might help my readers.

Tony grad­u­ated with a B.S. in Mechan­i­cal Engi­neer­ing in 1993. He spent six years at a small busi­ness man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany doing engi­neer­ing and net­work admin work. He made the jump to a full time Inter­net junkie in March 2001 when he joined Dave Ram­sey, noted author, radio talk show host and entrepreneur.

JB: Tony, tell me about Dav​eR​am​sey​.com. I know you’ve expe­ri­enced phe­nom­e­nal growth recently.

TB: The tim­ing of us talk­ing is really inter­est­ing con­sid­er­ing all the recent eco­nomic issues. Dave actu­ally started the com­pany back in 1992. As best I can tell, lead­er­ship took the com­pany online around 1996–1998. Back then, the site was basi­cally an online store and a cou­ple of pages of brochure­ware. It’s amus­ing to look at the design from back then and see how it has progressed.

In late 2000, the com­pany took the plunge and hired our first full-time web employee (we call them team mem­bers). In 2001, it was appar­ent we needed to step it up a bit more and 4 more joined the web effort giv­ing us 5. I was in that group of hires. That’s a pretty good ratio for a small busi­ness of 33 employ­ees. From there, our web efforts have grown into a team of 43 includ­ing pro­gram­mers, mar­keters and cre­atives. Over the last 3.5 years, we’ve added an aver­age of 10 peo­ple per year to the team.

I believe the thing that makes us some­what unique is that we’ve got a well diver­si­fied rev­enue stream through our web­site. That’s both a bless­ing and a curse. It cre­ates a lot of work and plan­ning to stay on top of things, but it allows us to gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue for the num­ber of vis­i­tors we have. We do B2B, B2C, lead gen­er­a­tion, adver­tis­ing, a sub­scrip­tion web­site, and last year we devel­oped our own online learn­ing plat­form to deliver our offline Finan­cial Peace Uni­ver­sity Class. Cur­rently, we’re in phase II with the FPU Online class tak­ing it to businesses/corporations as an HR ben­e­fit. After that, we’ll develop it for mil­i­tary finan­cial train­ing. There’s always a lot to do, and I don’t see it slow­ing down any­time soon.

JB: What’s your role at the company?

I started with Dave Ram­sey in 2001 after spend­ing 6.5 years as an man­u­fac­tur­ing engineer/network admin/web free­lancer. In 2002, I took over the web efforts. Cur­rently my title is VP, Inter­net Busi­ness and Tech­nol­ogy. I believe we’re setup a lit­tle dif­fer­ently than most com­pa­nies since I actu­ally get to over­see web devel­op­ment, cre­ative and mar­ket­ing. I think the best way to explain it is that I view our team as web con­sul­tants. If one of the busi­ness units goes to lunch and comes back with an idea on a nap­kin, they send it to us and we flesh it out and they con­sult with them on whether or not we should do it. If it makes the cut, then we do it.

JB: Like most small com­pa­nies, I imag­ine your first web efforts were focused on “get­ting it done.” When did you first make the con­cep­tual shift to using data to drive your deci­sions? Was there a moment that made you shift your thinking?

TB: For me the men­tal shift came a lot ear­lier than it did for the com­pany. I was blessed to be hired by a web vision­ary who still works with me, and he con­cep­tu­ally was push­ing data use early on. How­ever, it was a “before its time idea” for the company/executives, and it really didn’t get the focus it deserved.

Things devel­oped rapidly in our busi­ness, and with incred­i­ble growth, it’s easy to miss oppor­tu­ni­ties like using data to drive busi­ness deci­sions. While we were “loosely” using Web­trends in 2000, switched to Urchin in 2001, then Google Ana­lyt­ics in 2005-ish, we weren’t “lever­ag­ing” the data. I knew we would have to make some changes to really make our plans for a new web­site suc­cess­ful, and I knew we were let­ting vis­i­tors and rev­enue slip through the cracks. We researched the next step and landed on Omni­ture. Plan­ning for the new web­site was the cat­a­lyst. I wanted to make sure we had the best tools to make sure the job was done right.

JB: Once you knew you wanted to get and use more data, how did you go about con­vinc­ing the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion to go along with you?

TB: Great ques­tion. I had to fight hard to get approval. Going from a free Google Ana­lyt­ics pack­age to Omni­ture can cre­ate a lit­tle sticker shock for executives.

We did a lot of research. Orig­i­nally I had sin­gled out a prod­uct called Click­Tracks, but we were grow­ing so fast, I wasn’t sure it would be a long term solu­tion. We did our home­work, gave the execs options, and hag­gled over SAAS (soft­ware as a ser­vice) not being some­thing our com­pany does. I laid out a thor­ough plan of where we were miss­ing oppor­tu­nity, and I showed how the losses would only get big­ger as our vis­i­tors increased. In the end, it came down to 2 things. 1) show­ing them a 800% ROI on the soft­ware + employee, 2) I had enough cred­i­bil­ity and trust with lead­er­ship to make it happen.

We rolled it out in August 2007. We just fin­ished our 1st year, and we ended up around 579% ROI.

JB: Did you invest in human cap­i­tal to drive your ana­lyt­ics deploy­ment? How did you make the case for this to senior management?

TB: Yes. From expe­ri­ence, I had seen how we used Google Ana­lyt­ics. Every­one was always so busy that no one really had time to use the tool effec­tively to drive results. I knew that to really get the most out of ana­lyt­ics we would need to ded­i­cate a full time per­son to lever­ag­ing the tech­nol­ogy. In my pitch I required that we also invest in some­one that would spend their day comb­ing our site look­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties. It’s paid off.

To get exec­u­tive lead­er­ship on board I really drove home a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent areas that were very evi­dent and then made the case that there were dozens of oppor­tu­ni­ties hid­den in our site that would pro­duce results monthly.

JB: Once you began using Site­Cat­a­lyst, was it a nat­ural pro­gres­sion to start run­ning live tests & tar­get­ing con­tent? Was this a harder sell internally?

TB: I really wanted to climb one moun­tain at a time, but you have to take an oppor­tu­nity when you have it. My orig­i­nal plan was to work with Site­Cat­a­lyst for a year then step up to Dis­cover 2.0. Due to the nature of one busi­ness model, the leader of our live events depart­ment approached me in spring ’08 about tech­nol­ogy that would geo tar­get our vis­i­tors. An oppor­tu­nity pre­sented itself, and I ran with it. How­ever, it wasn’t easy to get approval.

We spent months prep­ping the argu­ment for Test & Tar­get to get 3 exec­u­tives to buy in. Omni­ture staff worked with us by pulling our Site­Cat­a­lyst data into Dis­cover 2.0. From that we dis­cov­ered that about 10% of our vis­i­tors from spe­cific high pro­file mar­kets were mak­ing it to the right pages. We made the case that if we could just get that num­ber up by 5–10% we would meet our ROI goals of 400% on our spend for the tool. I said we could hit that goal in 90 days, and we did.

JB: Many of my clients ask me where they should start test­ing. How did you pick your first area of focus?

TB: We had a lot of places we could have started, but sev­eral jumped out as bet­ter quick ROI spots. Since our exec­u­tive team put a 90 day 400% ROI require­ment on us or they’d pull the plug, we focused on quick ROI over long-term, size­able ROI. We also built the case for TNT based on geo-targeting, so we had to val­i­date the results with geo as well. This lim­ited us to 1 pri­mary prod­uct and a cou­ple of sec­ondary ideas that could lever­age geo-targeting.

JB: Tell me about how you’ve used geo-targeting on your site.

TB: Intially, we focused on using geo-targeting for our Live Events group. Dave Ram­sey presents about 14 finan­cial events per year and about 8 busi­ness events per year. We have around 100,000+ peo­ple attend the events each year all over the coun­try. Web accounts for 60% of the tick­ets sales and vir­tu­ally all of the busi­ness leads for the high end events. For the Total Money Makeover LIVE finan­cial events (pri­mary audi­ence), mar­ket­ing con­sists mainly of local bill­boards and ads deliv­ered by the radio show in the local mar­ket. What we found was that only 10% of the peo­ple from that mar­ket that vis­ited our web­site ever made it to the Live Events pages. Our assump­tions were that they didn’t know about the event.

We used geo-targeting to iden­tify the vis­i­tor then present a ban­ner on our home­page rel­a­tive to their mar­ket. That is, an Atlanta vis­i­tor would see an Atlanta ban­ner on our homepage.

Our next step was to improve the expe­ri­ence once we knew the vis­i­tor was inter­ested in the event. We used Test & Tar­get to mod­ify the fol­low­ing pages and check­out process to fol­low the Atlanta theme and the par­tic­u­lar cre­ative that the vis­i­tor responded to. We saw sig­nif­i­cantly uplift from these changes.

After all of that was in place and work­ing, we went back to mar­kets like Cal­i­for­nia where we knew we had vis­i­tors, but didn’t have a Live Event in the area. We used geo-targeting to do what I like to call “geo-exclusion” mar­ket­ing. We removed Live Events ban­ners from those mar­kets and replaced them with other prod­uct offers that we could ship to the cus­tomer or they could use online.

Between the two geo-targeting ini­tia­tives, we were able to meet­ing our 90 day 400% ROI goal. Now we’re just turn­ing up the notch as we have time.